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Former ‘Real Housewives’ Celebrity Lawyer Tom Girardi Accused of Stealing Millions from Plane Crash Victims


Erika Jayne and Tom Girardi.

Tom Girardi, the disbarred and disgraced celebrity lawyer who reportedly helped inspire the 2000 hit movie Erin Brockovich and who for years appeared as a Real Housewives of Beverly Hills cast member, was indicted twice this week by two separate federal grand juries for embezzling millions of dollars of his clients’ money.

The former attorney is accused of stealing more than $15 million from clients, including over $3 million in funds from families of the victims who died in the Lion Air Flight 610 crash in Indonesia, according to statements from the Justice Department.

Girardi’s ex-wife Erika, known professionally as Erika Jayne, showcased the extravagant lifestyle that resulted from her husband’s high-profile law practice on Real Housewives of Beverly Hills for years. She is also now embroiled in multiple civil lawsuits relating to her husband’s alleged mishandling of client funds.

The Department of Justice announced two indictments Wednesday: one in Los Angeles, the other in Chicago, each of which brings charges against Girardi for a massive alleged scheme to defraud his clients.

The Los Angeles indictment raises several instances in which Girardi allegedly secured hefty personal injury settlements on behalf of clients, then lied to those clients about the amount and timing of the payouts only to keep the money for himself. The indictment alleges Girardi’s massive fraud scheme continued for over a decade.

According to one count in the indictment, a client of Girardi’s who was severely burned, and whose girlfriend was killed in a gas line rupture, had been entitled to a $53 million settlement but was told that he would only receive $7.25 million to be paid out slowly. Another count in the indictment references a couple whose child was injured in a car crash and Girardi allegedly kept $15 million of the family’s $17.5 million settlement.

A separate indictment returned U.S. District Court in Chicago Wednesday charges Girardi with eight counts of wire fraud and four counts of criminal contempt related to five clients who were relatives of passengers killed in the 2018 crash in the Java Sea.

Prosecutors say families retained Girardi’s firm to handle their lawsuits over the 2018 Lion Air crash in Indonesia in which a Boeing Max 8 crashed shortly after takeoff, killing all 189 passengers on board. In those cases too, Girardi stands accused of defrauding clients by pocketing their settlement funds. The crash gave rise to criminal charges (and ultimately, an acquittal) against the former Boeing pilot for deceiving the FAA’s Aircraft Evaluation Group during its certification process.

The 18-page indictment also names as defendants David Lira, Girardi’s son-in-law and former partner, who is still a practicing attorney in Los Angeles, and the former CFO of Girard’s law firm, Christopher Kaman, who was arrested in November and is currently being held in prison without bail.

Prosecutors say that Girardi, along with Lira and Kamon, even told clients that settlement funds were delayed due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The indictment seeks forfeiture from the defendants in the amount of $3,069,500.

“Thomas Vincent Girardi should have been a pillar to our community. Instead, he is accused of creating an elaborate scheme to mislead his clients, victimizing them for a second time,” said Special Agent in Charge Tyler Hatcher of the IRS Criminal Investigation’s Los Angeles Field Office. “Attorneys are put in a position of trust when they represent us during some of our most difficult times. Mistrust in the legal profession grows when clients can’t trust their attorneys to pay them the settlements intended to make them whole. IRS Criminal Investigation, along with federal prosecutors and our law enforcement partners, will continue to seek to keep the legal profession honest.”

Girardi and his law firm filed for bankruptcy in 2021. Since then, the 83-year-old has lost his license to practice law and has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.

“Mr. Girardi and Mr. Kamon allegedly created a mirage over several years in order to disguise the fact that they were robbing Girardi Keese clients of large sums of money” said Amir Ehsaei, the Acting Assistant Director in Charge of the FBI’s Los Angeles Field Office. “The defendants exploited the hardships endured by their clients and took advantage of their unfamiliarity with the legal process while they denied victims what was rightfully due to them in order to fund their lavish lifestyles.”

Girardi’s first court appearance is set for Feb. 6. Each count of fraud carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in federal prison, though it is unlikely that Girardi would serve much prison time given his advanced age and serious health issues.

[Jayne photo by Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images, Girardi photo by Joe Scarnici/Getty Images for Annenberg Space for Photography]

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Elura is a columnist and trial analyst for Law & Crime. Elura is also a former civil prosecutor for NYC's Administration for Children's Services, the CEO of Lawyer Up, and the author of How To Talk To Your Lawyer and the Legalese-to-English series. Follow Elura on Twitter @elurananos